ShareThis Page

'Last of the downtown mansions' demolished in McKeesport

| Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 4:06 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Trib Total Media
A Lutterman Excavating crew clears rubble from the ground around the former Fraternal Order of Eagles building along Market Street in McKeesport on Monday.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Trib Total Media
A Lutterman Excavating crew knocks down the upper floors and stone exterior of the former Fraternal Order of Eagles building along Market Street in McKeesport on Monday.

Time has run out for the old Eagles hall in downtown McKeesport.

What a former owner termed “the last of the downtown mansions” is being torn down under a city contract by Lutterman Excavating LLC of Greensburg.

“Just a week or so ago, part of the front of the building started to collapse,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “We were then in a position to secure it and actually demolish the building.”

The city was put into that position earlier this year when it acquired the building from the Redevelopment Authority of the City of McKeesport, which in turn had taken possession of the 8,400-square-foot property in 2011 for delinquent taxes from Museum Hair Institute.

“The city started litigation under my tenure (as mayor) to take that property and have it demolished,” state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, said in 2011. “We were concerned about safety hazards and the ability to market that area.”

Cherepko was city council president then.

“A local society fought us and tried to intervene,” Cherepko said, referring to the McKeesport Preservation Society, directed by Maryann Huk.

Huk declined comment.

In 1991 Museum Hair Institute obtained the three-story building along Market Street and Sixth Avenue.

In 2005 Allegheny County's real estate website showed that MHI was delinquent in paying county real estate taxes for at least four years. But MHI partner Henry W. Russell said it didn't show the progress he made in paying those taxes.

“When I took the buildings over, I assumed the back taxes,” the MHI partner acknowledged. “It doesn't show that there has been $65,000 paid over a 60-month period. I have a payment program set up with the taxing bodies.” According to Allegheny County real estate records, the building was valued at $30,100 when it changed hands. The property was assessed at a taxable value of $136,900, including $18,500 for the land.

“When I came into office I allowed the Museum Hair Institute 90 to 120 days to come up with a plan (for restoring the building),” Cherepko said. “They did not come up with a plan.”

Formerly known as the Hitzrot house, the original structure at 626 Market St. was built in 1892 and sold to the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1911.

According to Jonathon Denson's Discovering Historic Pittsburgh website, Dr. Henry Hitzrot built the house, employing architect Frederick Sauer to design it.

Denson said Sauer designed a variety of buildings that became landmarks in and around Pittsburgh.

The Eagles attached an auditorium to the house in the 1920s and operated the Aerie 285 lodge there into the mid 1980s.

“This is the last of the downtown mansions,” Russell said in 2005.

That was four years after a fire damaged the building.

“It's just heartbreaking to look at a building of that style, that type of architecture ... and know that the owners have let it fall into disrepair,” McKeesport Fire Department Deputy Chief Chuck Margliotti said. “The fire is not what killed that building. The lack of upkeep is what killed it.”

Margliotti said the blaze wasn't exceptionally fierce.

“There was just so much junk stored in there,” he said. “We were able to put out the fire and save the building, but there was such a disorganized amount of junk.”

Cherepko sees the lot that will remain after Lutterman finishes its work as part of a development that may build up the entire area around the Palisades and Marina at McKees Point.

The mayor referred to the recent donation of nearby property by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and its McKeesport Corpus Christi parish.

“You have to build around our assets and our destination points,” Cherepko said.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.